Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections: Wife fights to redeem Karma`s chequered legacy

For Mahendra Karma`s wife, the November 11 election is a battle to redeem the legacy of the `Bastar Tiger` who founded the Salwa Judum.

PTI| Updated: Nov 09, 2013, 17:24 PM IST

Dantewada: For Mahendra Karma`s wife, the November 11 election is a battle to redeem the legacy of the `Bastar Tiger` who founded the Salwa Judum and was considered a symbol of tribal`s fightback against Maoists before he was killed along with top Chhattisgarh Congress leaders in May.
Dozens of armed guards protect Devati Karma, 51, and her four sons, all of whom have been given Z plus security, as she moves around seeking votes in an electoral battle against heavy odds in Dantewada.

"My husband lived and died for peace in the area. I will live to fulfill his dream," she says in her public meetings which are full of invocations of her dead husband, who continues to invite extreme reactions from people, especially tribals.

The contest will decide if Karma`s legacy will be redeemed following his death in the Naxal heartland or fade away. If Maoists are at their strongest in the Bastar region, they virtually rule in the vast swathes of Dantewada and nearby areas, and Congress believes that they would do their best to ensure that Devati Karma is defeated.

The architect of civilian resistance movement against Naxals, Salwa Judum, which later took shape of an armed vigilante militia, Mahendra Karma`s political fortune fell gradually as Judam gained notoriety for its alleged atrocities against tribals and was later disbanded by the Supreme Court.

After representing the area several times and rising steadily in the party, he was pushed to third position in 2008 polls behind BJP and CPI candidates and began losing clout. His supporters say Maoists had a role in his humiliating defeat.

Karma had hoped to recover lost ground by being at the
forefront of Parivartan Yatra, launched by Congress to highlight BJP government`s "failings" in the region, but was killed along with 30 others, including state party chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior leader Vidya Charan Shukla, in an Maoist attack on May 25.

Even though she hardly stepped out of domestic confines when her husband was alive and their two sons were involved in politics, Devati was chosen by party to fight elections.

Though Maoists have called for boycott of elections, political and security sources say they would do their bit to defeat her as a victory for her would be a big boost to her husband`s image of an "anti-Naxal warrior".

More than half of the total of 266 booths in the constituency are in areas strongly under Maoists influence. Political parties will find it hard to send their polling agents their and it is her biggest worry.

Despite his "flaws", Karma`s wife and supporters defend him vociferously.

"He could have compromised as many politicians do. But he deeply believed that Maoists were bad for tribals` future and never compromised," says Upendra Gagda, a Congress worker.

"Tribals saw him as their protector. His heart used to beat for them. I am sure they will vote for me," Devati says.

BJP`s Bhima Mandavi, who is the present MLA, dismisses any sympathy among voters for Karma and says Raman Singh government`s welfare policies are the real issue.

"Karma`s violent legacy has not left many with sympathy for him," he says.